Today I was staring at the bookshelf and idly pulled this one out... Can't even remember when I bought it, it's been so long since I looked at it last. Weird thing is, I found a letter in it that I don't recall being there. It's an instructive letter on scraperboard, typewritten, not by the author above, but by an illustrator named Edward S. Billin.
I found a example or two of his work, from a book published in 1952 called "Drawing on Scraper-board" and have scanned the letter for you to read below.
It sounds like something that would have been sent through the Famous Artists Painting Course, but there are no examples, no notes or drawings.
Enjoy - especially my students - most of whom have never heard of this medium!
I've had a book stuck in my head for a couple of years now, called The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels.
Life, death, water, earth, love, grief... Cycles. A novel written with such poetry that I couldn't shake it.
The image above is probably the least planned image I've created in a long time. I didn't have a plan beforehand, I just started painting.
The flower is fireweed, a native plant that grows after a forest fire, when everything has burnt to the ground... I thought it was suitable to the main character, Jean, thrown into grief after the death of her unborn child and to the story overall.
So there are more images I've been chipping away at and I'll post them as I finish them.
In the time that I've been an illustrator (about twelve years now), I've been drawn to collaboration. I've done so through group shows, organized get-togethers for coffee, or a few drinks, workshops in my old studio, or through volunteering at ICON.
I did it because I needed to. There have been so many moments when I've felt stuck, frustrated and bored. Surrounding myself with those whose work I admired spurred me on. It helped me reassess what I was doing. I took comfort when some confided that they were also struggling and celebrated their successes, even when I was envious. In those chunks of time when work was at a stand-still, it was a way to stay focussed on what I really desired, to remain an illustrator.
Last year when I was in Prague, I went to many galleries and museums, but the thing that excited me the most was a place called, Orbis-Pictus. The event was titled "leporeloHRA", an interactive drawing project that invited visitors to make creations of all kinds, using paper, drawing implements and a variety of rotating machines and instruments. The project demonstrated that creative play can function as a universal means of communication without language or age barriers.I could barely grasp the concept at the time (no English explanation could be found). I loved the feeling of the place though. Collaborative work, freedom to play - it felt very fresh to me, something I'd been craving.
Through many conversations with friends about my trip to Prague, what emerged was a desire to have a space where we could learn from each other, collaborate, share ideas, work, and play. In Toronto, illustrators have never had a central place where they could show their work, get reliable industry help, rethink, retrain, and share what they know.
One of my favourite actresses, one of my favourite faces. This portrait of Tilda is one that I painted over and over again... Each time I did, she had a slightly different expression - she was too ghostly, or too warm, her face too open and inviting. But here she is, a premonition of fall and winter during this hot summer perhaps.
Working in the studio at home wasn't working any more and I wanted a space that would give me more room to paint and to collaborate with people that inspire me.
It's been a month since I moved into the new studio in Kensington Market and I'm sharing this great space with some amazing talent/friends; Sandra Dionisi, Aaron Leighton, Koyama Press, Renmotion and Pyramid Attack.
Thought I might have difficulty working in a studio with others, but have found it to be no trouble at all. In fact, I'm finding myself continually inspired! Not just by the talent mentioned above, but also by my tireless coop students Nayoun Kim and Alysha Puopolo... They've been helping us with a variety of projects and are now working on a killer window display that I'll post photos of when its done.
Where I work...
Shots from last weekend during a Car-Free Kensington Sunday.
I'm busy, but school's out and now I have more time to do things I love, like Pen Club! This is something that happens every other week in Toronto at the Future Bakery on Bloor. (We used to call it "Drink n' Draw".) Aaron Leighton, Steve Wilson, Arv Slabosevicius and Anne Koyama are there every week with a regular crowd and people like myself who drop in every once in a while to hang out and draw.
The steady stream of what they all create in their books in an evening astounds me, and honestly makes me self-concious. I don't work the way that many of them do - hilarious images that just seem to fall out of their heads and onto the page... As much as I try, I don't work this way - eventually I find myself doing what I love most - observing, capturing a moment in a person's face.
Day five in Prague and heading to Berlin in a week... Found myself in a great bookstore off the beaten path and found a few old Czech film posters. The ones I'm posting here are the ones I couldn't manage to bring home but really love. Also some pics of artwork hanging on the walls.
This time of year I get a little nostalgic, but not for reasons you'd expect. What feels like another lifetime ago, I had moved out at sixteen, dropped out of school and did various jobs until at the age of eighteen, when I began working full time as a waitress, slinging quarter chickens to the masses. It was a good place to be at the time - the staff was like a big crazy family and after a few years I was able to slowly work on my getting high school diploma bit by bit.
Illustration wasn't even an idea in my head, I just knew that I didn't want to be a waitress forever. I had constant reminders of this as I watched some of the ladies in their 50's and 60's shuffling up and down the aisles with trays of drinks and heavy hot plates. It was easy to stay though - we saw each other at our best and at our worst - and became life-long friends.
Through all of this, whenever I heard that someone needed a portrait, a store sign, decorative panels, murals and so on, I jumped at the chance. I liked the challenge and I don't believe I ever said no, even if I had no idea whatsoever of how to do whatever task was at hand. I poured over books at the library, but mostly just dove in, trying to figure it all out as I went along.
My boss at the restaurant loved Christmas, loved all things Christmas, and would direct us to decorate every square inch of that place until it looked as though a tinsel explosion had occurred. I heard him ask a manager if he knew of the person who painted the holiday windows at the nearby donut chain, so of course I butted in and said that I could do it. And so it began! For three or four years I painted every window across the front of the restaurant, there were ten I think. He paid me thirty-five dollars for each one. The first year I did it was just hideous. It's a bit of a trick, painting windows. Depending on how you do it, they either look wonderful during the day with the light coming through the paint and absolutely terrible at night, or vice versa. We had the most business at night, so after that first round I opted to paint the windows after the restaurant closed.
Check it out and pardon my photos, they're the only surviving evidence of those holiday windows! And check out the progression of Santa from one year to the next... Pretty hilarious.
It was kind of magic you know, being there, alone in the restaurant, painting on these big glass canvases. Other than previous high school projects, this was the beginning of my education as an artist, as a painter. In the quiet, well after my long shift on the floor, with the hum of the industrial fridges, the hush of falling snow, the cold emanating from the glass - I taught myself to see colour, to edit and adjust, to paint... When three or four in the morning rolled around and I was exhausted, I would drive home and sleep for a few hours before heading back, a little rumpled in my uniform for the start of a new day.
Let me tell you the excitement I felt as the light shifted and line-ups for dinner began - people oohed and aahed over each addition as I completed them - one per night. My first gallery shows - well that's how it felt anyway. But the designs were not always mine, I copied them from tins or cards, so if one of these is a poor likeness of something you originated, I do apologize. But whoever you are, I learned from you.
I eventually got pretty good at it, and requests for my windows came from all over the city for designs in people's homes, various businesses and for different events. Why, my boss even let me push him to pay fifty dollars for each window and for windows elsewhere I was able to sometimes get seventy-five to a hundred, depending on the size. And somehow, stupidly, I thought myself better than other window painters in the city, who used templates, stencils and rollers to quickly whip up several window designs in one day, where it took five hours or more for me to freehand just one.
I used all the money I made to buy Christmas gifts for my family and friends. It felt good. I started thinking more and more about what to do with myself if I wanted to be something other than a waitress. And I was always a little relieved when the busboys scrubbed them off after the season was over. A strange beginning, don't you think?